England 40 Years Ago — March 29, 1981

This has been a work week. I made a discovery as to the probable origin of the “sit in”. Years ago some woman was probably doing housework with a toddler helping by sitting wherever she wanted to clean. John $ helped in just that way.

Monday dawned early, but not bright. It had rained a lot; the car doesn’t take kindly to dampness, and it wouldn’t start. John walked to the station, but the girls stayed home from school. In the afternoon the rain let up so that Kate, $ and I could walk to the village to the greengrocer and to a tiny grocery down a footpath pointed out by a neighbor.

Tuesday we found an advert (they don’t say “ad” here) in the parish church magazine for car hire with driver. Had to pay $10 to get the girls driven to school! A young man came from a garage to try to start the car and succeeded, and I was able to get food and begin cleaning Tymberly (the first house we had).

Four days had roughly the same schedule (did you pronounce that right?). I dropped the girls off at school, shopped, cleaned the old house, had lunch, $ fell asleep in the car on the way to Churchfield (the name of our present house), and we went back to pick up the girls.

Gillian asked me over for a cup of coffee Thursday to get away from the grind for a few minutes. We had a lovely chat sitting in the sun in her kitchen. She served Brownies saying that since I gave her the recipe and some American baking powder, her children haven’t let her quit making them. I was able to go back across the street and work another two hours after a proper break.

Friday the door bell rang at eleven, and I opened the door to Gillian holding a tray with two cups of coffee and a square of coffee cake! Wasn’t that sweet? We sat in my sterile kitchen for that snack. A refreshing break can certainly make one attack the work with vigor afterwards.

A car pulled in front of Churchfield just as I was about to unload the last of the stuff from the other house. Dorothy M and her two daughters came to introduce themselves. They’re from New Jersey and are friends of our house mates. Her husband, John, grew up in Garden City and is the ranking officer of American Express for this area of the world. They’ve been here two years and don’t know how much longer they might stay – could be years more. The parents and younger daughter love it here, but the older one has taken longer to adjust. Nancy, almost 13, didn’t complain to me, but her mother said things had been rough with her. Lynda, 10, sounds like the British! She even eats the way they do. These two girls often play with Catherine and Philipa, so we hope to see more of them. They live down one street and through a short footpath. This village is so small that everything is within walking distance.

I got tickled at some of the stories Dorothy told. She said they often get lost, but don’t admit it to the girls. They say, “We’re practicing making u-turns.”

I gather I fared better than she did the one time I went to Sutton to try to shop. I couldn’t find anywhere to park and just turned around and came home. She said she got so turned around in all the one-way systems they have in that town that she couldn’t find her way back. After several u-turns she spotted a little old lady walking and asked her the way to highway 217, explaining that she needed to find her way back home. The lady said, “Well, dearie, if you came on the 217, take the 217 back.”

Yesterday John worked at Tymberly while the rest of us stayed home. He was scrubbing the walls and ceiling of the shower room and getting the furniture back in the right rooms.

[Below, the photo shows Kate and $ running in the back garden. Through the hedge you can see a glimpse of the modern house built by the owners of our house. They still have a nice bit of land defined by tall hedges.]

Kate, $ and I went for a walk. We checked the little Post Office store to see if they had a map of Walton, but they were out. The lady said there were never many with Walton and the best thing to do was to borrow one. I tried at the news agent with success – he had a whole pile of small maps, reached for one, opened it out to show me where Walton was, then snapped his head up to look at me and ask, “You’re not lost, are you​?” That struck me as so amusing. He was simply sharing a map with me and suddenly became concerned with my welfare.

Kate wanted to stop at the greengrocer’s for fruit, but the place was mobbed. The shop is about as big as two bathrooms and with much more visibility outside looking in than when you can actually squeeze inside. My impression was that there were 20 people there, but there were more than likely only 5 or 10. We continued on to watch the swans and ducks, returned to the shop a few minutes later, and the place was empty! I’d much rather walk than queue up! We bought the fruit she was so hungry for and had some for lunch.

Lisa has given $ a new nickname which we found ourselves using more and more until Papa John heard it and banned it. Lise claimed $ made this sound, and from that she got his name. It’s “Beezoo”. Surely it’s not much worse than “Boopsie” (a name my uncle called me).

Today is Mother’s Day here. They refer to it as both Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday. John wondered if that day was to honor all those who have mothered children, perhaps to include nannies. No answer on that as yet. Kate made paper flowers and a cutout doily at school, and Lisa did an arrangement of real spring flowers to bring me.

This morning Lisa and John went to St. Mary’s in Reigate for communion at the early service, and Kate and I plan to go to St. Peter’s around the corner for Evensong at 6:30. Lisa helped pack up the goldfish to move them and picked up a few more odds and ends at Tymberly.

The weather has been grey and dreary for weeks, it seems. Yesterday the sky was as blue as could be, and the sun shone nearly all day. We had all the windows open and ate a picnic in the garden. Today it’s back to grey. The flowers do show up well in this weather, however daffodils look brighter in dim light, I believe. There are lots of daffies in the orchard and some in the back. Jeremy, the owner’s son who is managing this place, said the greenery close to the kitchen window is honeysuckle. Flowering trees are showing color, I mean, colour. This week we should see a hint of green on trees.

John just cleaned out some of the boxes and the play pen from the upstairs hallway. The hall is narrow, but how wide it feels now with all the items scattered around the house!

37 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — March 29, 1981

    1. Nearly every week I dragged out the portable typewriter and wrote a letter to our mothers, who shared with our siblings. John saved the originals, and I typed them on the computer about 20 years ago. That’s probably when I scanned all the slides. Thanks for reading this history.

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          1. I was creative at an early age, but other than a few poems and letters, I didn’t start really writing until I was living in Groves and read a blog or a book about blogs. Then, an ad for a company called Barefoot Writers caught my eye (it was really more like a school) and I’ve been hooked ever since!

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    1. We were so very blessed! Because the girls stayed in schools near our first house, we were able to keep in touch easily with those friends. On Facebook, we reconnected with the three girls that lived in the other half of our house!

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    1. One of our first friends in England said English neighbors knew we were American, and they would go out of their way to be friendly. She continued, “If you had been English, we would have peeked at you from behind our curtains.”

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  1. Ah, the “sit-in”. I help out that way all the time. So kind of John $ to help out. Lovely garden. We have the exact same hedges in front of our house here. I think that’s where the bunnies live that visit me from time to time at the window. I love how the houses have names, too. I’m liking the name Kittywood and Catsgills

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      1. I like that name. You should go on Etsy, get a sign made with that on it, Est. 1996, or whenever, and plop it by the door! So I’ll know where to go when I visit the area!

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  2. You wrote: Gillian asked me over for a cup of coffee Thursday to get away from the grind for a few minutes.

    Is it pushing the envelope to ask if (at the time) you savored the irony of being invited to coffee to get away from “the grind”?

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  3. Mothering Day and adverts! This letter reminds me of England. I was there in the spring and I still think that calling an advertisement an advert makes all the sense in the world.

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    1. The three girls that lived in the other part of the house are on Facebook. We lost touch in the 80’s, but Lise and I read their pages now. They gave me permission to include them when publishing the letters from England.

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  4. I don’t know how you fit typing a letter home in every week, with all the new things to learn and right at this time, cleaning two households, taking care of a family, including a toddler. You had a lot of energy!

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    1. No, I don’t slip into British speech, but I can still hear the cadence in my head. I don’t know if it’s still true, but back then questions often ended on a downward note. Americans tend to go up at the end of a question.

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